Swinney moves Justyn Ross to the slot, says Tigers are "back in business"
|Tuesday, March 2, 2021, 2:42 PM- -|
Good luck covering Justyn Ross in 2021.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney told the media Monday evening that Ross, one of the nation’s most dangerous receivers, has been practicing at the slot or “5-man” receiver position in the Tigers’ offense. That’s the same spot that allowed Amari Rodgers to put together a career-year in 2020 and saw Hunter Renfrow fashion a 186-catch career that is fifth in Clemson history.
"Justyn Ross will hopefully be our starter in that (slot) spot," Swinney said. "We're gonna really transition him there. Justyn can play all three spots and he will, but if we were to play today and he was cleared to play, he'd start in that slot position. We’re back in business there at wideout.”
The Tigers are indeed back in business. Joseph Ngata played just 122 snaps over seven games as he battled injuries last season, while Frank Ladson played 261 snaps but also missed time with injuries. Ross missed the entire season as he recovers from neck surgery, and Swinney is hopeful that the Alabama product will be cleared to play in 2021.
In the meantime, Ross is practicing with the team and doing everything except getting hit. He’s also doing it from the slot, and Swinney didn’t hesitate in making a shocking comparison.
“His lateral quickness and explosiveness in and out of cuts, that’s one of Justyn’s gifts,” Swinney said. “He’s (former Clemson slot receiver Hunter) Renfrow-esque when it comes to his lateral ability.
"When you’re in there in the slot, it’s a quick change in direction. If you can get a big body like that, he’s unique. I think it’ll be a great move for Justyn as his future. He’s one of those rare guys with size that can be elite, I think, at any position.”
Ross enters 2021 having recorded 112 passes for 1,865 yards with 17 touchdowns in 929 snaps over 29 career games (14 starts) from 2018-19 before missing all of 2020. Ross posted a dazzling true freshman season in 2018 in which he caught 46 passes for a team-leading 1,000 yards with nine touchdowns in 15 games.
He posted a monster performance in the College Football Playoff in 2018, catching six passes for 148 yards with two touchdowns in the Cotton Bowl and six passes for 153 yards with one touchdown in the College Football Playoff National Championship.
With Ladson and Ngata healthy and the emergence of EJ Williams, the coaches feel like they have plenty of weapons on the outside. Add in freakishly-talented Ajou Ajou and freshmen like Beaux Collins and Dacari Collins, and there appears to be depth at that spot for the first time in a while.
Brannon Spector was the backup to Rodgers last season, and incoming freshman Troy Stellato is expected to spend time in the slot when he arrives in June. For now, Ross is performing wherever the coaches put him.
"We have formationed him all over," Swinney said. "He's made plays in the boundary. He's made plays in the field. He's made plays in the slot since he's been here, but we've never really just played him at the 5-man and asked him to learn that."